AJAX: What’s in a name?

What do a Greek hero, site a town in Ontario, more about a household cleaner, a play by Sophocles, and the revival of JavaScript have in common? They all bear the name AJAX.

I don’t know about you, but as much as I’m a sucker for buzzwords, I just can’t bring myself to use the acronym AJAX in a conversation without feeling like a sellout. Maybe it’s because the closer I look at AJAX, the less the acronym seems to apply.

Take the “X” in AJAX. It stands for XML, but a lot of “AJAX” apps being built aren’t transferring XML via the famed XMLHTTP. Rather, they use an IFrame to make the connection and the data is in the form of JSON, HTML or even just plain old text. In whose case the acronym should change to AJAJ, AJAH and AJAT respectively. But it doesn’t, and so I’m stuck saying “AJAX” when I really mean “AJAJ.”

Likewise, the asynchrony of some AJAX apps is also iffy at best. Though they fetch data after the page has loaded, they still rely on the user’s input and the fetch tends to be pretty synchronous. Amazon’s diamond search is an example of the JS code fetching data only when the client modifies the search filters. While Google Maps only loads data when you move the map. To the best of my understanding of the word asynchronous, these apps seem pretty synchronous to me.

After writing this article I realized that the XMLHTTP protocol actually makes async calls. So again, it’s only AJAX if you use XMLHTTP.

I can’t harp on Google though. They never claimed to be doing any AJAX. Their engineers just call what they’re doing JavaScript. Which in effect, is all it really is. Which is why I personally refer to the AJAX phenomenon quite simply as the revival of JavaScript.

Ultimately, once you come up with an acronym, you set boundaries (however ethereal) on something that’s capable of doing so much more.

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